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LIUNA Affiliates Integral in Unanimous Passage of Work Zone Speed Camera Legislation

Starting in July of 2024, highway work zones in Washington state will be equipped with automated speed cameras whenever construction workers are present. That’s due in large part to the tireless work of LIUNA affiliates in the Northwest Region.

LIUNA General President
Brent Booker

“Two years in a row, Washington state broke its own record for roadway deaths and we saw the impact that had on LIUNA members and their families,” said Billy Wallace, Political Director, Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers (WNIDCL). “We got this passed and across the finish line in 50 weeks by making this all about one thing – saving lives and sending people home to their families.”

The WNIDCL started by forming the Unions, Senators, Industry Leaders (USI) Committee and launching a public-facing safety campaign via www.drivesaferwa.org. The goal of the USI Committee was to bring unions, contractors and elected officials together to improve work zone safety throughout Washington state.

“LIUNA members performing vital work on our nation’s road infrastructure deserve the peace of mind that those jobsites will be safe from work zone intrusions,” said LIUNA General President and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Brent Booker. “Automated speed enforcement is one tool state legislatures can use to help protect the working men and women of LIUNA while they make our roads safer for the traveling public.”

The Road to Achieving Unanimous Support

Almost exactly one year after the USI Committee was formed, SB5272 passed 96-0 in the House and 49-0 in the Senate. How did LIUNA affiliates in the Northwest Region, including the WNIDCL and Northwest LECET, get this done?

At regular USI stakeholder meetings, LIUNA affiliates put LIUNA contractors front and center to share the reality on Washington state roadways. “At every meeting, contractors detailed their near misses, accidents, fatalities and serious injuries,” said Mallorie Davies, State Regulatory and Policy Coordinator at the WNIDCL. “That quickly showed our legislators this wasn’t a partisan issue, this was a Washington issue.”

As the incidents piled up – including flaggers hit and dragged over cars, workers pinned against jersey barriers and multiple truck-mounted attenuators (TMAs) hit in the span of a few days – legislators started paying attention. Soon, USI Committee meetings also included representatives from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the Washington state police.

With WSDOT at the table, LIUNA affiliates presented data showing how inadequate safety protections both lengthened project timelines and increased on-the-job risks to workers. LIUNA affiliates were also able to advocate for changes to WSDOT’s project bid system to give additional preference points to contractors that implemented established work zone safety best practices.

To achieve broad bipartisan support, the USI Committee looked at policy language from existing speed enforcement laws in both Democrat and Republican-led states. “This bill shows the importance of having a good relationship with stakeholders on both sides of the aisle, at state DOT offices and across the construction industry,” said Davies. “Being able to compromise while staying focused on our ultimate goal of improving work zone safety for LIUNA members was a big part of our success.”

Key Details of the Automated Speed Enforcement Bill

With enforcement not set to begin until July of 2024, some details will be decided over the next year as SB5272 gets closer to implementation. However, the broad points are as follows:

  • Camera Locations. The bill allows speed cameras in state highway work zones – defined as an area of any highway with construction, maintenance, utility work or incident response activities authorized by WSDOT. The goal is for cameras to be mobile, such as in a van, to allow enforcement to move as work progresses.
  • Worker Presence and Signage. Cameras will only be active when workers are present, and signs will be placed at least two miles before the work zone to alert drivers that cameras are present.
  • The first work zone speed camera violation will be a warning, with second and following violations costing $248 each. After two years, a driver’s violation counter will reset, so they can receive another warning before paying a fine. Also, cameras will only be used for speeding violations, not as a way to identify other criminal activity.
  • Most importantly, these fines will fund traffic safety, including work zone safety contingency funding and driver education programs.

Safety contingency funds allow contractors on highway projects to request and quickly receive needed safety interventions that aren’t part of the original bid package. Under SB5272, work zone speed camera fines will allow WSDOT to fund much-needed positive protection, including TMAs, arrow boards, rumble strips, traffic control devices and smart work zone technology.

Fines will also go towards bolstering driver education programs. In Washington, drivers’ ed is only a requirement until age 18, and many people aren’t able to access classes due to cost, which can be around $750. State crash data shows that most fatal roadway incidents were happening among the 18-30 age group. Work zone speed camera fines will go toward helping to make classes more affordable for new drivers and will also fund the development of new driver curriculum around work zone safety.

Next Steps for Work Zone Safety

LIUNA affiliates in the Northwest Region aren’t done working to improve work zone safety for LIUNA members. Moving forward, they’re working on bringing TMA driver safety courses to members, creating a closed-course driving area to train members in situational awareness and releasing toolbox talk videos on TMA safety and traffic control.

For more information, check out the LHSFNA’s Work Zone Safety page or read more about how the LHSFNA is fighting to protect roadway workers. LIUNA signatory contractors and other affiliates can order the Fund’s Work Zone Safety publications from our online Publications Catalogue.

[Nick Fox]

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